Some people suggest checking your email only twice a day and spending as little time on it as possible. This is unrealistic. Many of our most important communications are now done through email. For many business people, email is integral to their marketing and selling efforts — cutting back on that would mean missed opportunities.
- The first step to managing email is knowing when not to use it. There are times when email wastes more time than it saves. Don't email an urgent message unless you're certain the recipient is in the office and checks email continually. Many people check their voicemail more often than email, especially when they're out of the office. Also, if you need a back–and–forth discussion, why exchange email for days when you can resolve the issue on the phone in a couple of minutes?
- If you get a great deal of email, one way to make sure you see the most important messages first is to have two different accounts. Your main email address would be for general use — this is the one you put on your business card. The second email address would be like an unlisted phone number — you give it only to select people, such as important clients. An alternative is to use filters that automatically route incoming messages from specified people to their own separate folders. Most email programs allow the creation of filters.
- Another use for the filtering function is to intercept junk mail. Set your filter to detect incoming messages that contain words like "dear friend," "make money," "90 days," and "opportunity" so they go directly to the trash bin.
- Good habits are the key to successful electronic email filing. The only email that should stay in your inbox are those that you haven't read yet or that require some action from you. This way your inbox turns into a sort of task list. For email you need to keep, create folders for clients or projects and drag and drop individual messages, after you've read them, to the proper folder.
- The majority of your email doesn't need to be saved. Whenever possible, read each email once, then delete. If you do this regularly, you'll have far less email clutter. If in doubt, file it in an electronic folder, but go through your folders every two months and delete as much as possible.
- Break the habit of printing hard copy of your email. The only time it's necessary to print a hard copy of an email is when the email pertains to a project for which most information is on paper. In this case you should print it out and place it in that file — otherwise you'll forget about it.
- Contact management software such as ACT or Goldmine is especially useful for filing and retrieving emails in the computer — each email is linked to the name of the person who sent it to you, and email you sent are linked to the recipient's record. This gives you a handy electronic equivalent of the traditional chronological file — a folder containing a copy of every letter sent or received.
- Specific message headers make searching for old emails easy. Put specific subject headers in all the email you send; when recipients reply, your header will carry over. The result: your stored email will have clear subject lines such as "Agenda for April 3 staff meeting" and "Question about Smith account".
- Don't address several unrelated issues in one email. If you need to cover more than one subject, write separate email with specific subject lines for each.
Between creating folders and using specific subject headers, you can easily turn your computer into an efficient filing cabinet for email. Also some programs, such as Outlook, have powerful search functions that permit text string searches, so if you have trouble finding an email, you can search this way.